Convention 2010

We are leaving soon for Atlanta to join the Foursquare Convention. I wanted to share a few thoughts about convention as I see it. Last year, the Foursquare leadership dubbed convention under a new name, Connection, to give people more of a sense of why they come.

The first few things I think of when preparing to attend a Convention include in no particular order, what the good food is for this city, which of my friends are going to be at convention, and is there a baseball game in town (Convention always starts on Memorial Day). Then I begin getting ready and excited for the coming convention.

To me, Convention is all about connecting with friends and making solid connections for the ministry. The meetings are important and have their place, but many in my generation look forward to this spaced to see friends and share life.

Convention gives the space to reconnect with old friends that you see at the most once-a-year, or sometimes less. The space and time of convention allows for encouragement, refreshing, renewing vision, and building one another up as we deepen the connection we have with one another in our movement. I am looking forward to sharing meals with people I went to Bible College with and new friends we have made since. I look forward to catching a baseball game with some friends as we share stories about ministry in each of our own  contexts. (I’ll add another stadium to my lifelong quest to see all the baseball fields.) I even hope to catch a morning run with some other friends, who bring their running shoes for such a purpose of seeing different cities as we run through them. I will be looking for those running buddies again…I have my shoes and shorts.

Yes, we have business to attend to and that is probably the primary reason to have a convention. This year we need to elect a new president, discuss bi-laws and go over the budget. We need to function in certain ways to stay on track and that is okay. We also will have meetings to and gather together to worship. I pray the Holy Spirit moves in these times and refreshes the body of Foursquare ministers.

Yet, I also pray that the Holy Spirit moves in the times of connecting with one another over meals, coffee, dessert, baseball games, walking the city, praying with one another in the lobby and wherever the good people we serve with in Foursquare connect in Atlanta this year.

Pace and Lifestyle

Pace that is the word that jumps to mind after being back in the US. I know we are a busy people in this country. I remember being busy before and juggling a crazy schedule at times, so why does this strike me as noticeable?

Recently, I was talking with our home pastor, Jeff Hamilton, about discipleship. As we talked, all I could think about was the hectic lifestyle that distracts us from hearing God. In my class, I am taking at Wheaton College, the professor has hammered home the point of slowing down, resting, pausing to allow God to be in the process. One person he quoted said, hurry is not in the devil, but is the devil…as a hurried life can distract us from God.

In Thailand, usually you plan one event in a day. One big thing will take up the entire day, not necessarily in time, but organizational energy. Running to the store might take two hours as you run into people and need to stop and spend time with them, hit major traffic, and other minor things that just take time. That plus your normal work and general lack of energy from the heat fills up a day.

In America, the checklist of activities never runs dry. We have to work hard to keep up with our schedule. We have meetings, lunch appointments (when did lunch become work), club activities (not just kids, with softball or indoor soccer clubs), and the list goes on.

Being busy doesn’t have to be bad, as productivity is not inherently good or bad. We just need to be intentional on how we spend our time and to work for those spaces to be alone with God. I am reminded of an axiom I heard years ago, I am too busy not to pray. We have so many things on our plate or in our life that we need God’s input all the more.

As I took my class last week, I learned many tips for slowing down. I want to take more times to pause, even for a minute or two to stay centered in the presence of God. Sometimes it is just those little windows of space that allow us to refocus on God.

For me and maybe for others in today’s culture we can do things to practice the presence of Jesus.

  1. We can take the longer line at the grocery store or bank, and rather than being impatient, spend those extra minutes in prayer.
  2. We can eat slower. Eating doesn’t have to be a race, and when we chew our food all the way and slow down, we will digest our food better and not overstuff our  body. We can also enjoy and process life a little better rather than always being hectic.
  3. Pray the scripture.  I can pray the scriptures, by taking Psalms or different parts of the Bible that I want to meditate on and pray them as I go throughout my day. This will help my mind to remain on the word of God and settle my soul.
  4. Similar to but slightly different than the previous point, I can pray short, succinct prayers over and over again. Throughout the day, I can mutter to myself little prayers such as: God be merciful to me, Holy Spirit, come now; Jesus, you are my friend and, Jesus you are my lord and savior.
  5. Turn off the radio or podcast or music. In Thailand, I will often listen to a podcast or something as I walk to the center where we teach and serve. When my Ipod went on the fritz, I found myself many times just praying and meditating on God and his word. I want to be more intentional to do that. It is my constant multitasking that keeps me distracted. I love to walk and listen to something, or walk and call a friend, but I should walk and talk with God.

These are my new intentional ways to be led by the limitless Holy Spirit to times of refreshing and prayer throughout the day. These practices should not take the place of simple devotions and times in God’s word on a daily basis. These are meant to supplement the life we have with God to enrich our knowledge of God and his love for us.

Hugs are so fun

Yesterday, we had the privilege of spending time with one of our Thai friends from Thailand, but in America, at Great America.

One of the university students we work with in Thailand came to the Chicago area on a Work and Travel program. She gets to spend three months working in the US with a little extra time to travel and see some of the country. She has been working at six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, just outside Chicago, for almost three months now. I remember helping her prepare for her interview process, and how nervous she was. Now she is so confident and knows her job and gets around awesome in a new country.

When we arrived to pick her up, she came up to us and gave a hug to Christina and me. This was a pleasant surprise as Thais don’t usually make any physical contact when they greet each other. Instead, the greeting is a “wai,” where you hold both hands to your nose like you are praying. By the way, this is great in preventing the spread of germs, especially in the swine flu scare. I responded by saying, “you have been in America for a while now, haven’t you.” She just smiled.

As Americans, we love to give hugs and receive hugs. To us, this shows a connection, affection, and solidarity with one another. In Thailand, we have to intentionally refrain from going to hug our Thai friends. That would make them feel weird, like why are you touching me. Even a handshake is odd to them, but they like to do it with Americans to show they know our culture. But then I don’t know how to respond, I think why are you doing that to me when I am in your country. Sometimes, I don’t expect it, so I leave them hanging until someone prompts me to shake their hand.

It is the little things we learn to adapt with that takes time and practice in another country, but when we saw our friend yesterday, we appreciated a hug in our country. I’m sure we won’t get that same luxury when we reunite in a couple of months back in Bangkok.

Christianity Part of Religious Rituals in Bangkok

Everyone is still trying to heal from the recent events in Thailand, especially Bangkok. The past week has thrown Bangkok into a mental uneasiness. They are looking for ways to bring unity and good luck. Today, the city government will hold a religious ceremony. When I first saw that, I knew it would be Buddhist. I read the article to see more, and I was surprised to see it included many other religions, including Hindu, Sikh, even Christianity. The Buddhist portion of the ceremony is by far the longest and given the most credence, but Christianity was still included. This is amazing as the Christian witness in Thailand is less than 2 percent. This just shows that God is moving in Thailand and the government is open, or at least tolerant, of Christianity.

Bangkok Cleaning Up

After 10 weeks of protest by the red-shirts, mostly the rural poor, that culminated in violent clashes, arrests and buildings burning, Bangkok is putting the pieces back together. The worst of the present protest has passed, but the beginning of reconciliation has only begun. One can look at the pictures of Bangkok, seeing a shopper’s paradise, the largest mall in Southeast Asia, burned out and tanks roaming through Lumpini Park, a beautiful spot in the heart of the city and see scars marring the urban center of Thailand.

There are similar wounds marring the hearts of the Thai people, largely regarded as kind, generous and averse to violence. The Thai identity has been shaken as they ask the question, how could we do this to our own people? The rift goes deep, and the future uncertain. For now, the wounds are being healed and the tears drying up.

Tonight is the last night of curfew. Businesses are going back to work. The schools will reopen again next week. As we talked with one of our good friends in Thailand, he said things are almost okay. No one really will be okay for a while, but life is returning to normal.

Many of the members of the church where we serve were hanging out together eating lunch yesterday; looking forward to what God will do in this broken country. The unknown leaves a wide open path for the gospel, a story of good news, to be shared with the Thai people. As the Thais recovered from the terrible violence of the past 2 months, we pray that God brings peace and justice to the hearts endives of Thai people.

Continue to pray for Thailand, as this was just a battle in an ongoing struggle for power between the rich urbanites and the poor and oppressed. Don’t let the story fade from your prayers as these precious people work for solutions and stability in their country.

Protests in May

Bangkok went from bad to worse yesterday. The protesters clad in red decided to set fire to the city before being removed from their encampment in the downtown area. At 1:15 pm the red shirt leaders turned themselves in for arrest. A couple of hours later the remaining protesters set fire to buildings in the surrounding areas, like the largest mall in the city (Central World), movie theaters, shopping centers and more. They also went after government buildings in the other major cities in the north and northeast.

When the fires started, the fire trucks could not get to Central World for more than two hours, because snipers prevented their path. I wonder which side the snipers stand with as they have prevented either side from doing anything productive.

Our friends in Thailand are under great anxiety and concern for their country. Uneasiness turned to pure sadness and worry. Everyone who saw the trouble coming crowded the stores gathering water and food for the few days of anarchy. The government enacted curfew last night and again for tonight from 8pm to 6 am. This is a hard curfew, with the US Embassy warning that soldiers have been given permission to shot people on sight.

Many stores have been ransacked and now are closed. 7/11’s, which can be found on every corner of Bangkok, are usually open at all hours but are now only open until 6 pm. The center where our school and church meet has closed temporarily. We get to participate in a tangible way by allowing the girls from the center to stay at our apartment.

Pray, pray and pray again when you think of the sweet people of Thailand stuck between this political battle. As fires rage, arrests take away the leading protesters and chaos unfolds, we seek peace in the midst of turmoil.

Mixed Up Actions

After arriving back in the US, we realize once again how cultures have varying customs. Things are done differently in each culture. We get used to how things are done in Thailand, even when some of them are more difficult than how it is in America. One common example of this is throwing toilet paper in the wastebasket, not in the toilet. After even a short time, you must consciously think about where to toss the TP when you are finished with it. It is these seemingly little things that keep tripping me up and make me double think much of what I have been doing the last few days.

In Thailand, cars drive on the wrong, I mean left, side of the road. People walk on the right side, but drive on the left. I still can’t figure out that oddity. I don’t drive in Thailand as there is no need with all the accessible public transportation. We do ride in cars though, and I have to double think every time I go to climb into a car here. It feels awkward to get in and drive on the left side, or jump into the passenger seat on the right side.

While driving with my sister in the car the other day, we needed to turn right out of a parking lot and onto the street to get on the freeway. I thought for a second and then headed for the signal so that we could turn right and avoid the cars going the other direction. As I turned, my sister questioned what I was doing and asked why I wasn’t going the shortest way by just turning right out of the parking lot. That shook me out of my confusion and I had to laugh that I was driving as if I was in Thailand, except my car was still on the right side of the road.

Another little mix up comes when I go to take a warm shower. We have warm water in our apartment in Bangkok, even though we only need it a few months out of the year. It comes through an instant hot water electrical system. When I go to get ready for a shower here in America, I get everything ready for the shower before undressing and being cold right before the warm water. The problem is that I don’t think about the water needing time to warm up until I am freezing and waiting for it. After a few times of freezing while waiting, I think that I will remember when I go to take a shower that I need to prepare the water also.

I could give many more examples of little things I do, or must think carefully about before doing, as I try to remember all of the little things people do differently here in the United States.

A backwards mix-up: While many things remind me how things are done in the US, some things make me think of Thailand. It is common to see odd combinations of words as Thais are not proficient in English. Today, while in the bathroom, I noticed that the hand soap was labeled, “hand and body shampoo.” Are girls’ hands so hairy that they need to use shampoo to clean them? This type of wording is common in Thailand and made me think I was back there for just a moment.